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A conversation on cars as symbols of democratic, social spaces to question society’s prevailing norms in public space and in everyday situations.

  • Feb 01 2023
  • AWC in Conversation with Göksu Kunak and Tara Habibzadeh
    Göksu Kunak (b. 1985 in Ankara) is a writer, performer, and performance-maker based in Berlin. Kunak’s interest lies in queer methodologies and hybrid texts that deal with the performative lingo(s) of contemporary lifestyles. Kunak imagines new situations through real encounters that point out the problematics of hetero-patriarchal structures: orientalism, self-orientalization, and Eastern masculinities in relation to state governmentality. They have performed their productions among others at: Sophiensäle, Berlin (2021); The Blank Contemporary, Bergamo (2021); HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin (2021); Next Waves Theater, Volksbühne, Berlin (2021); Live Works Prize Vol. 8, Centrale Fies, Dro, Italien (2020); Lab of Contested Space, Akademie der Künste, Berlin (2020); The Parliament of Bodies, Bergen Assembly (2019); Pogo Bar, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2019).

    Tara Habibzadeh (b. in Tehran) lives and works in Berlin and Tehran. Influenced by cinema, dramaturgy, music videos, documentary films, comedy, and news, and with a background in mathematics and law, their practice can be seen as the evidence of ambiguous visual dialectics. Habibzadeh’s wide variety of works explore themes such as heroism, ideology, survival, gender identity, trans-generational and -historical narratives, first-generation diaspora, war, brainwashing, pain, and propaganda.

CARPARK is an exhibition format conceived to explore the car, as well as the space the automobile creates and takes as a site of artistic appropriation, interpretation, and intimacy. The car is, in its literal sense, a connector between places, classes, and histories. In the following piece, the two participating artists Göksu Kunak and Tara Habibzadeh reflect on traversing geographies, narratives, and identities.

For some people, a car is the only private space they have access to. What is your relationship to this machine?

Göksu Kunak: In Turkey, public transportation was not good at all, so I grew up with cars—particularly in relation to my dad, who loves football and cars. From a young age, I learned how to drive, and then had my own car. When still in Ankara, I took part in informal urban races, which are normally very male-dominated. We would do it casually after university, and there was this hidden code. You kind of flirted with the other car, and then you started to race in the traffic. I was studying interior architecture and was depressed, so I was usually sleepless, and therefore tired, which was why I eventually had an accident, after which I gave up on racing. I really had this connection to cars—the speed, the feeling they generate, and the sense of agency that comes from caring for and operating this machine. Nothing is black and white, though— I’m also aware of the car lobbies and pollution, which is interesting for me artistically and beyond my personal relation.

Tara Habibzadeh: We didn't have a car. I was used to taking a taxi a lot, because, in Tehran, there wasn’t any public transportation other than buses. There were collective taxis that would carpool—like an U-Bahn but on a very, very small scale. I come from a complex family, and the taxi was one of my few chances to interact with the population around me. My parents tried to protect me, so all I knew was cinema—one of my parents is a filmmaker—and the glimpses that I got through my taxi rides. Most of the drivers were highly qualified academics, because there are not enough jobs in Iran, or their pay is insufficient for covering the costs of a family. The taxi was a space where people would open up about many private and public issues. This was what society was built from. When I came to Germany, taxis were suddenly very expensive, but I still met hyper-qualified Iranians or Pakistanis as drivers; predominantly Muslim people. Then and now, riding in Ubers, Bolts, and taxis also opens up a clash of realities or the possibility for camaraderie, like when your driver checks their phone at the traffic lights for updates about the uprisings in Iran or Afghanistan or what's happening in Palestine.

Göksu Kunak: Yes, this reminds me of another aspect I find important: music. I love the loud music of cars passing by, which, in the German context, is often associated with certain nationalities. This music, in combination with other stereotypes—like car modifications or eating sunflower seeds and “polluting” the streets with the seed shells—ties certain bodies to certain cars. I’ll be playing Turkish rap and music from the Arabesk genre in my performance CLICHE for CARPARK as a reference to cars passing by on the streets in Berlin.




Tara, you use the term “gaze-based practice” for your work. What does it mean to produce a work for a specific context?

Tara Habibzadeh:  I embody quite contradictory extremes. When I have the possibility to position myself, I really have to check in with myself and decide which part of me is most privileged in this context at a specific moment. How will I be put in a box—as a trans person, BIPOC, or anything else? In order to not become a product of the capitalist machinery that generates money from people’s identities, I try to see things through the eyes of my past self and my old, deep pain, rather than through the eyes of someone I’ve become; someone who survived and happened to only recently root and fruit in stability. My gaze changes with my circumstances and my development. The only questions here are how much privilege I have compared to yesterday, what my urges are; what my responsibility is. I incorporate the choice of my own gaze and the gazes which I have upon me. 

Göksu, your use of the term “Camouflage,” is also a practice of reacting to a context. Can you share more about how you coin this concept?

Göksu Kunak: After censoring myself out of necessity in certain contexts, I began to be attracted to the notion of camouflage. Different from the dominant understanding of camouflage as a figure-ground relationship, I dove into the idea of camouflage through identity and performativity—blending in, performing to be another identity, and eventually becoming anew. There’s a concept called taqiyya in Islam, which is basically concealing one’s true belief in order to avoid any kind of danger. As a former Muslim, I also performed taqiyya to a certain extent, at the borders—whether entering the EU as people with passports from Southwest Asia, or when going back to our own countries—I performed the “good citizen.” Decay, for instance, is another form of camouflage. I began to see dying and decaying as the continuation of being, interplaying with camouflage. By merging, one becomes something else, entering into a state of camouflage and then transforming into another entity. Speculative or science fiction can be a tool in shapeshifting and protecting yourself. How can I still be precise about what I want to say, but keep myself out of danger? Fiction allows you to move through the cracks, or generate new niches, in order to dig down and bring out hidden narratives, or find your own in the dominant structure.



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That directly connects to the question about both of your relationships towards an audience. In this intensive process of relating to perceptions and shifting them, how do you position yourself towards an audience?

Göksu Kunak: As I am an autodidact in the arts, I draw from my experience of having mainly been a writer and theorist for a long time. When writing, you always ask about who the reader is. I'm always aware of this question in my performances. If I were living in Turkey, my performances would be different, because the audience would be different, and so the way I would be with my body would be different. I'm also aware that I perform in front of predominantly white audiences, although in some places—for instance, Brussels—the audience was diverse. I also consider site-specific elements and the history of a given space. The images I create in my work look completely different in a white cube versus a black box. The historicity of these institutions inevitably shapes the way in which the works are perceived, but so do the audience members’ past experiences. 

Tara Habibzadeh: The range of experiences that shaped me is so wide and almost endless in contradictory ways— from passing as white to being perceived as Black, being ascribed and feeling female and male, from conforming to Islam and not conforming to it. Through this, I trust myself to assume an extreme width of possible audiences. I try to pay attention to all of these different experiences. It is not a special identity ascription that shapes the audience of my work. My work polarizes and bridges gender, nationality, religion, class, and race. When creating, I sometimes feel like God. Video editing is playing with so many elements, sound, movement, color. It’s being bigger than your higher self. When I edit, I have physical and sexual reactions. This transfers to the audience, too: playing with time and movement manipulates people.

Do you consider your work to be political?

Tara Habibzadeh: My work is not political at all, but it being perceived as such is just a predictable result. What I do right now is audiovisual dialectic, bringing together a conversation. As a private person, I do have strong opinions and values, but my work asks me to look beyond my own convictions.

Göksu Kunak: What I'm doing is political, but not per se. It's a part of it. Because we are all political beings in this world. For instance, heartbreak is political for me. I'm interested in the cliché that “the personal is political.” Everything we do is performative—my anger, or say, my concern about circumstances—is part of my work, and I transform it through auto-fiction into a speculative narrative about myself. Pornography, erotica, D/S elements, or even teddy bears and pop songs fuse into my performances as well as the political history of Turkey. It’s complex and layered. I am also drawn to the politics of time (chronopoltics), referring to the way in which time is structured through institutions and narratives. I directly apply this consideration in my work, which is also a question of medium.


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How does time pass in a black box versus a white cube? When I want to create a certain image on a stage, I need to slowly count to 20. Otherwise, you cannot really grasp the moment. But if you count to 20 in a video, the perception of time is drastically different. 

Tara Habibzadeh: At some point, I hope I have defended my work in front of big audiences so often that I don't have to say anything about being political or not anymore. I don't want to exist as a person reduced (by the system) to tiny parts of my identity anymore; a person is bigger than the sum of its parts. I want my work to be looked at, experienced, and talked about for what it is without categorized thinking—yet not separated from who I am as a person. That's my dream. In terms of political struggle, I think it's dangerous and not sustainable to build a career based on your struggles. 

The necessity of having to respond to the context by creating a narrative around oneself leads us to the question of your relation to text. Both of you come from disparate academic fields and have used theory and other forms of writing. We have been talking about how your work, and how you as artists, are being read; how you position yourself towards this readership; how you intervene with manipulations and tactics as artistic strategies—but you do not state that you belong to an already existing theoretical context. Tara, you even call yourself intellectually homeless. Can you elaborate more?

Tara Habibzadeh: Initially, it was just something that I felt for a long time, and I wondered if I was the weird one. Now I feel like not only do I identify as non-binary, but my thinking is also non-binary. I naturally avoid getting attached to things, so my work thrives from this.

In my work for CARPARK, called THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE, I saw the potentiality in the car to transfer, transition, and move, simultaneously carrying all of these contradictions inside, as an analogy of the body. Let the contradictions fight each other inside you. As long as you move, there is growth.



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Sometimes my words can be understood in very extreme ways, but it is important that people understand that this is just a mode of philosophy. I want to mention Hegel, because this is the name associated with dialectics that I mentioned earlier. But even though people are not ready for impartial philosophy—which is not to be confused with the decision to be apolitical as a person—I see complex beauty and growth in this approach. Because if we haven’t internalized leftist values, what are we even doing in the first place? 

Göksu Kunak: I am writing with a new friend who studied with Judith Butler, often mentioning Hegel and Marx. I asked him, can we just stop quoting these white men? Just yesterday, another friend of mine posted a story of himself at Hegel’s grave, and now, today, Hegel is coming up again. This coincidence of Hegel’s multiple appearances is just funny.

Tara Habibzadeh: You know what’s even funnier? All these white men and great philosophers have appropriated Asian and ancient Indigenous philosophies and understandings. I am not obsessed with white people, but I am obsessed with the origins of their writing. When I quote them, it’s because of them being a common denominator. If I quoted Rumi, a majority of my audience would not be able to follow—unfortunately, we are not there yet. 

Göksu Kunak: Yes, Denise Ferreira da Silva also talks about Kant, Hegel, and Marx, but gradually dismantles the systems that favor their narratives.


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    Cover: Göksu Kunak, CLICHE, 2023. Performance trailer video still.
    fig. 1: Göksu Kunak. Photo: Ahmet Ögüt.
    fig. 2: Nike Kühn, Alien Species, 2022. Installation view CARPARK 2023. Photo: Joseph Tremblay.
    fig. 3: Luki von der Gracht, Untitled, 2023. Installation view CARPARK 2023.
    fig. 4: Tara Habibzadeh, There are two kinds of people, 2023. Installation view CARPARK 2023.
    fig. 5: Tara Habibzadeh. Photo: Majo.



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